by Craig Edwards - June 20, 2017
Some say it’s all been done before. That’s perhaps mostly true, but as something only mostly true, all of it has not actually been done before. This is especially true if you are willing to include qualifiers. Take this example: Before last weekend, no player had ever completed a cycle with a walk-off homer when the team was trailing at the time of the blast, per Baseball-Reference’s Play Index. Nolan Arenado has now eliminated that previous distinction.
Cycles are fairly rare, occurring 255 times, per Baseball-Reference, roughly once every 700 games, and this decade has been in line with that average. Since the beginning of last season, there have been 99 walkoff wins that ended in a homer, about one in 35 games. Of those 99 walkoffs, just 19 were come from behind homers, and only 13 came in the ninth, roughly one in 266 games. Put those two together, and we have about a one in 750,000 chance of both happening in a game. Given we’ve had about one quarter of that many games played over the last 100 years, it seems reasonable we’ve waited this long.
There have been a few other similar games over the years if you relax some of the requirements. There were only nine games in the Baseball-Reference Play Index where a player hit for the cycle and had the game winning hit in a walkoff. Many might have seen that the last player to hit a walkoff homer to complete a cycle was Carlos Gonzalez in 2010. He hit his shot to break a 5-5 tie against the Cubs. Hopefully the seven year difference between occurrences adds to the perceived rarity as opposed to making it seem commonplace.
If you were to allow a cycle to be completed in walkoff fashion, but without a home run, there are three games you might be interested in.
- On June 14, 1949, the Pittburgh Pirates hosted the Boston Braves. Wally Westlake came to bat in the bottom of the ninth after singling, tripling, and homering earlier in the game. After retiring Ralph Kiner, Braves pitcher Nels Potter faced Westlake with runners on first and third, a one-run lead, and 80% chance of winning the game. Westlake doubled, completed his cycle and Pirates won 4-3.
- On May 20, 1968, The California Angels were hosting the Boston Red Sox. Jim Fregosi needed just a single to complete the cycle in his 11th inning at bat. Pinch runner Tom Bergmeier scored from second base on Fregosi’s single, ending the game 5-4.
- Honestly, this next cycle seems slightly dubious. Frank White came to bat for the Kansas City Royals on August 3, 1982 against the Detroit Tigers in a 5-5 game in the ninth and a runner on first. White needed a triple for the cycle and he got it, although what White did on the bases seems slightly immaterial with the game-winning run trying to score from first. White did have six triples that year so it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary.
If you like walkoffs when the game is tied, we’ve got a few more games.
- On September 19, 1972, Cesar Tovar‘s Minnesota Twins were hosting the Texas Rangers. That Twins team featured Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew while the Rangers featured a 100-loss team in their first season in Texas and Ted Williams in his final season as manager. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a runner on first, Tovar broke a 3-3 tie with a bomb of Paul Lindblad.
- On June 28, 1984, the Seattle Mariners and the home Boston Red Sox played an 11-inning game where 12 of the games’ 15 runs came in the eighth inning or later. The Mariners scored three in the top of the eighth to take a 4-2 lead with the Red Sox adding a run in each of the eighth and ninth innings. In the tenth, both teasm scored two runs, and then in the 11th, thanks to a walk, two errors, and an out at home, Dwight Evans came up and hit a three-run shot to win the game 9-6.
- On September 14, 1961, the Cardinals hosted a Cubs team featuring Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and a 34-year old Richie Ashburn. That was the year, the Cubs opted to go without a manager, instead featuring a College of Coaches. It did not go well. On that September evening, Ken Boyer hit a double in the ninth inning to knock in the tying run and then led off the 11th innings with a homer to win the game.
If you like walkoffs when the game is tied, but don’t care if the player has already hit for the cycle, I’ve got one game for you.
- When the eighth inning of the May 28, 1979 matchup between the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, George Brett was one for three with a triple. He hit a two-run homer in the eighth of starter Dennis Martinez to put the Royals ahead 4-3. The Orioles, who would win 102 games that year but lose to the We Are Family Pirates in the World Series, tied the game in the ninth. In the tenth Brett came up and got a single. When he came up in the 12th, the Orioles intentionally walked him, using the now antiquated method of throwing four pitches to the opposite batters box where the catcher had signalled for the throw. In the bottom of the 14th, Brett hit a one-out double, but did not score, and had thus completed a cycle. He then hit a walkoff to lead off the 16th inning and win the game.
All of this is to say that what Arenado did was incredibly rare and impressive. The other players who have hit homers in cycles is an impressive group. George Brett is a Hall of Famer. Dwight Evans and Ken Boyer are pretty close with the latter having won an MVP. Carlos Gonzalez has been one of the game’s better hitters over the last decade. Arenado is in the middle of another impressive season, and now he’s had one of those great moments that should be remembered for quite some time, especially if the Rockies continue on their great run.